In one of Moses’ final speeches Moses told the Israelites that when they entered the land a time would come where they would seek a king like all the nations around them. (Deuteronomy 17:14-20) Moses then outlines what a godly king looks like and how he should behave.
About 300 years later, the time came. Israel faced oppressive military pressure from Philistia and the prophet Samuel’s sons were corrupt. (This didn’t stop Samuel trying to appoint them as successors.) No obvious unifying leadership was on the horizon. “So all the elders of Israel gathered together… They said to Samuel, ‘You are old, and your sons do not follow your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.‘”
The problem here wasn’t that Israel wanted a king. The problem was that they never specified the type of king. Samuel then describes the character of the king he would appoint: someone ‘like the nations’. The tribal leaders willingly signed on for this leader. They could have said, but didn’t, “Uh uh, we want a king like Moses described. We want a godly king. We want a king who spends time each day studying the Torah.”
I suspect that we often underestimate our inner urge to tell God how to do his job. When desperation drives us to accept God’s will for our lives, we still attempt to negotiate our terms.
The tribal leaders had resisted giving up their power for centuries. Now, in the face of the system crashing down around them they decide a king is the answer. There’s no record that they wanted Samuel to seek God’s direction about appointing a king, or who to appoint as a king. Maybe it’s implied because Samuel was a prophet, but their words to Samuel were simply, “Give us a king.”
As I preached on this topic, Galatians 2:20 kept running through my head.
“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.“
This sounds poetic and maybe you even here the melody of a popular christian song as you read it. The reality these words describe challenges our faith to the core. Our old selves don’t surrender without a fight.
We want what God offers, but we want it on our terms.
We want Christ’s church, but we want it to accommodate our preferences.
We want to do evangelism, but we want to do without getting uncomfortable.
We seek a king, but a we want a king that fits our definition.
May God forgive us. May God be gracious to us. May Christ reign within us.